The prophet of irony summons the McJob generation: Yawn-again twentysomethings

A BOILED sweet, a children's book about a rabbit and a licence plate frame engraved with the message, 'Ignore Boomers - Proud to be a Member of the X Generation'. These are some of the modest but personal gifts piling up on the desk at Kepler's, where 32- year-old Douglas Coupland is signing copies of his latest work, Life after God. He finished his reading in this Palo Alto bookstore, outside San Francisco, over an hour ago, but still fans are queuing for the chance to meet their new idol.

Three years after writing Generation X - Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Coupland has become the sole voice, prophet, apostle - the critical epithets vary in their extravagance - of twentysomething America; the first writer, he says, to explore the mundane, middle-class reality of over-educated but under-stimulated post-boomer suburbanites. Or, to paraphrase the young East and West Coast intellectuals who have adopted him, he is the wonder boy of post-modern ennui.

His success seems unlikely to be fleeting. Life after God, eight short stories about young men and women struggling to make sense of the delayed transition from adolescence to disappointing adulthood, is already on the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list and is the hottest item this week at Kepler's. He is the latest catch of the self-consciously brainy Washington DC political weekly, the New Republic, to which he is now a regular contributor.

Viewers of the rock-video station, MTV, are being plied with a series of 30-second channel promos that star Coupland uttering passages of his book in a variety of post-modern settings. And some literary critics venture comparisons with Hemingway and Salinger.

But he is controversial also, especially among the established gurus of American youth culture: the advertising executives of Madison Avenue and the editors of Rolling Stone magazine. They question whether the age group Coupland defines as those 'born in the late 1950s and 1960s', aged up to the mid-thirties, can be lumped together and called the X Generation in the way of post-war babies, the 'boomers'. It may be a threat to them because as a marketing target the anti-glamorous Coupland style is unpromising. Nor do X- ers respond to the familiar Sixties and Seventies icons on which magazines such as Rolling Stone are predicated. 'Eric Clapton? Who gives a shit?' exclaims Coupland.

Jan Wenner, the millionaire publisher of Rolling Stone, did not want to attack Coupland, whom he claims, surprisingly, not to have read. But on the generation question, he lets rip. 'It's time to drive a stake though this odious phrase, Generation X,' he declares, arguing that there is little to separate the twentysomethings from his own boomer age group in terms of social concerns and even musical tastes. 'The idea that there is a new generation gap filled with resentment is empty-headed nonsense spouted by self-styled pop culture theorists and opportunistic media critics,' he says.

Coupland denies that in writing Generation X he was setting out to define an age group, let alone become its spokesman. 'I live my life, I write about my life, no one else's, and the people in my orbit and in no one else's,' he insists. Now essential campus reading around the country, the book plots the fortunes of three young 'slackers', who cut loose from their home environments and boring but socially acceptable jobs, and come together in Palm Springs where they share their fears, tell each other stories and exist on 'McJobs' - 'low-pay, low- prestige, low-benefit, no-future jobs in the service industry'. Their language is loaded with cynicism and irony.

It is this new culture of irony, brought on by an unrelenting exposure to the media and especially to television - the electronic babysitter - that divides the twentysomethings from older generations, argues Coupland. 'Young people are never going to be without irony again. That's one of the psychological fall-outs of media bombardment when you're young. Because you see life being posited in a certain way with a certain resolution and a certain codification and then you see life as it is lived, which is messy and ugly and boring.'

Coupland attributes the refusal of Rolling Stone to acknowledge him to what he calls the 'social schism between those people, like myself, who, like 1,000 tea-bags in a pot of hot water, were steeped in the media culture, and people like my parents or even those boomer somethings, who weren't. There are a lot of older people who wish I would go away.'

Life after God is a more philosophical and possibly even more introspective book than X. The tone, Coupland says, is the result partly of a 'blizzard' of personal losses - the deaths of friends or family, he does not elaborate - he has recently suffered. The book's jacket tells readers: 'You are the first generation raised without religion.' This is a phenomenon, which, according to Coupland, helps to explain the sense he and those he knows have of being adrift without a religious, moral or ideological anchor.

Whatever doubts marketing analysts or Wenner may have about the Generation X label, Coupland's fans back at Kepler's harbour none. Don Miller, 23, who has a McJob as a hospital orderly in Stanford, says: 'I think people my age are rarely written about and the observations he makes are really right on.' And, of a girl who had sat next to him and had objected to the 'X' label, he says: 'It was so funny, because I recognised her immediately as a character from one of his books.'

So what's next for Coupland? He says he is going to London: 'I want to learn how to affect a British accent.' He does not explain why.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Business Development Director - Interior Design

£80000 - £100000 per annum + competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits